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Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels


This post describes how to Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels. To be more specific, we’ll install Debian 11 (Bullseye) onto a virtual machine (VM) deployed on an Apple Silicon-powered MacBook Pro (M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max). I am running macOS Monterey Version 12.2 and Parallels 17 Desktop for Mac. Beyond simply installing Debian as a guest operating system, we’re also going to install Parallels Tools and install and configure sudo to make working with our new Debian VM easier.

“Parallels Tools is a set of drivers for the guest OS that is installed in your VM. It helps you use your virtual environments in the most comfortable and efficient way.”


Get Debian

Open your browser (Safari, Firefox, etc.) and navigate to Debian’s download page.

There you will find links to download official CD/DVD images of the “stable” release.

For macOS running on Apple Silicon, make sure to download the CD image for arm64.

The ISO file should be named debian-11.2.0-arm64-netinst.iso or similar.

Open Parallels

Open Parallels and you should see the Installation Assistant window.

If it reads “Download and Install Windows 11”, click Skip.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

The “Create New” panel will appear.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

You may notice a “Download Debian GNU/Linux” option under “Free Systems”. We are not going to do that, because as of Parallels version 17.1, it will download Debian version 10 (Buster), and we want version 11 (Bullseye).

Click the icon above “Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or image file”.

Click Continue.

Parallels will attempt to find image files to install. Click Choose Manually.

The “Select Installation Image” panel will appear.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

Drag the Debian image file onto the Installation Assistant window (or click select a file and open it using the file chooser. The file should be named debian-11.2.0-arm64-netinst.iso. or similar

The Select Installation Image panel should update and Debian GNU/Linux should be displayed.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

Click Continue.

Provide a name and location, or just stick with the defaults. (I named mine Debian Bullseye)

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

Click Create.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

The Debian installer will appear.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

Keep the *Install option and press return.

The Debian setup menu will appear. Just follow along with the setup wizard and select the options appropriate for you – language, country, etc. If this is your first time installing Debian (or Linux in general), I’d recommend keeping the defaults for the most part. There will be some steps where you will need to enter information, like hostname, domain, passwords, etc.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

When you reach the “[!] Configure the package manager” panel, select “<No>” when asked to “Scan extra installation media?”.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

The package manager configuration includes various options; again, I recommend keeping the defaults.

When you reach the “[!] Software selection” section, keep only the defaults – SSH server and standard system utilities. I chose to not install a Desktop Environment, like GNOME, because I am planning to use this VM as a server and not a desktop. Note that the default options provide a fairly minimal install so we’ll add a couple of utilities later.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

Once Debian installs various components, you should be ready to finish the installation and restart the system.

Install Debian on your Mac using Parallels

If the installation was successful, the system should restart and you should be greeted with a login prompt. Note that mine reads debian login: because I entered debian as the hostname during the setup process. If you provided another hostname, it will display yourhostname login:.

Debian Terminal

Rather than logging into our new Debian VM directly, we’re going to SSH into it from our Mac. This will make it easier to copy/paste commands initially.

In order to SSH to your VM, you need to learn its IP address.

From the VM menu, click on the Network icon (looks like a globe) and make note of the IP address displayed there. In my case, it is

Find your VM IP Address

Configure your Debian User Account

SSH into your Debian VM from your Mac. Use the following commands to set up sudo and add your user account to the sudo group.

su -
apt install sudo
adduser yourusername sudo
exit # exit su, back to your user profile
exit # exit SSH session, need to relogin to make changes take effect

Install Parallels Tools

Again, SSH into your Debian VM from your Mac.

Make sure the DVD drive in your Debian VM is ejected:

sudo eject /dev/cdrom

Go to Parallels Desktop menubar -> Devices -> CD/DVD -> Connect image…

Connect your Debian CD Image

Navigate to /Applications/Parallels Desktop/Contents/Resources/Tools.
Click on prl-tools-lin-arm.iso and click Open.

Connect your Debian CD Image

Return to your SSH session and mount the Parallels Tools image to your Debian VM:

sudo mkdir /media/cdrom # you may see an error if this already exists
sudo mount /dev/cdrom /media/cdrom

Make sure the disk image is successfully mounted:

ls /media/cdrom
# you should see: install  installer  install-gui  kmods  tools  version

Install Parallels Tools

sudo /media/cdrom/install
# Parallells Tools Installer will appear
Parallels Tools Installer

Press return several times to progress through the install wizard.

exit # exit SSH session, need to restart to make changes take effect

Restart your Debian VM and you’re done!

Restart your VM

Whew! That was a lot of steps! But, now we have a fairly minimal install of Debian that is set up to work well with Parallels and macOS. We also installed and configured sudo to make life easier when we update the system, install and upgrade packages, or to follow along with how-tos like this one.

Categories: Tech

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